Bee Prepared

Bee on a flower

Hornets BEE-ware!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Hornets! They’re big. They’re mean. And they fear NOTHING!….Except….

Beekeepers in Vietnam noticed Asian honey bees collecting poop from other animals to smear on their hives. Talk about an unusual design choice!

An international team of scientists headed by Heather Mattila from Wellesley College investigated.

The researchers watched as hornets visited twelve honey bee colonies. At others, the team shooed hornets away by waving plastic bags. Where the hornets hovered, bees got busy! Poop spots there increased to almost five hundred per hive! In contrast, UN-visited colonies had less than twenty on average.

The hornets also changed their habits. More poop on the hives cut hornet landings by half! And when they did land, they didn’t stay long. Hornets even stopped chewing on hive entrances!

The researchers think animal poop contains repellent chemicals that drive hornets away.

Understanding the Asian honey bees’ defense could help us protect our bees for the future.

Now THAT’S worth buzzing about!

Reference: Mattila, H.R., Otis, G.W., Nguyen, L.T.P., Pham, H.D., Knight, O.M., et al. Honey bees (Apis cerana) use animal feces as a tool to defend colonies against group attack by giant hornets (Vespa soror). PLOS ONE 15(12): e0242668. (2020)